Franco Does Bieber, in the Name of Harmony Korine

Back in the spring, when James Franco was shooting Spring Breakers — Harmony Korine’s much-anticipated teensploitation crime flick — James shot a video of himself, in character as the corn-rowed drug dealer Alien, singing along to a few bars of his cast mate Selena Gomez’s jam “Love You Like a Love Song.” Considering the particular confluence of all of those wonderful things (most of all the cornrows, of course), it got no small traction:

Later, in an interview with Vulture plugging his meta-art-General-Hospital project Francophrenia, James downplayed the attention he gets when he does stuff like lip-synch to Gomez:

“[W]e have a whole channel of videos that we produce: We have a show about art openings, we have an online soap opera … we have a show about undergrad college students. All this stuff takes a lot of time to put together. And we do get a lot of viewers for those shows. But then when I do something so stupid and simple as singing, like, one and a half verses of Selena Gomez’s song with cornrows in my hair, it blows up on the blogosphere and we get, like, all these viewers. Part of it is, “Wow, I guess I just tapped into what they want!” You know, this pop, surface-level kind of thing, but done in a way where you feel like something else is going on. Or the fact that it’s me doing it is like … fascinating to people, I guess.”

“I guess”?! Come on, son. Franco, it’s safe to say, puts just as much effort and calculation into his “pop, surface-level” stuff as he does all the artsy, high-brow, long-term projects; one pole of The James Franco Experience does not work without the other. Which brings us to his latest bit of provocation: Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend,” as envisioned, scripted, and directed by Mr. James Franco:

Presumably, this is the one Franco was referencing when he says, in the Vulture interview, that “the latest [lip-sync video] is Bieber, and I’m sure people will be writing about that.” And he was right! It features Franco, in outdated Bieber-wig/cap/hoodie combo, proving he actually does know most of the words to “Boyfriend”; it’s also got some wonderfully low-rent strobe-light effects. And it co-stars Ashley Benson, another one of Franco’s Spring Breakers cast mates. With whom, for the record, according to Franco, all romance rumors are just that: “As for Gomez and Benson, those are Bieber’s girls and I wouldn’t dare tangle with the Biebs. I heard he wants to kick my ass. Yikes!”

So James shot this one awhile back and unleashed it in a time of relative Franco peace, to much attention and celebration. You might see that as the work of a calculating man, starved for attention. I see it as the efforts of a booster of the arts: Franco wants people to see Harmony Korine’s most commercial film in, well, ever, and he’ll put on a dumb wig and dance around, if that’s what it takes. Hopefully Franco’s got a bunch more lip-synchs stored up, though, because Spring Breakers doesn’t drop until March.

Filed Under: Harmony Korine, James Franco, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Spring Breakers

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Amos Barshad has written for New York Magazine, Spin, GQ, XXL, and the Arkansas Times. He is a staff writer for Grantland.

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